The gold rush

Athletics, beyond doubt, is the biggest attraction at the Olympics and the United States has been the dominant force. There are other disciplines too that attract equal, if not more, attention, and Sportstar takes stock of the powerhouses in each of these sport.

The USSR, which participated as a nation for the last time at the Seoul Games in 1988, was a top nation in gymnastics, and its tally of 72 gold medals is still the best.   -  Getty Images

Perhaps the best thing about the Olympic Games is that you get to watch the world’s greatest talents in an amazing variety of sport over a fortnight. The sheer quality of an event like athletics alone would make an Olympic Games unforgettable.

However, you would also find as much excitement in the swimming pool, on the hockey field, at the gymnastics arena as well as the wrestling mat. Which countries have dominated, over a century, in those vastly different disciplines? Let us take stock.

Athletics, beyond doubt, is the biggest attraction at the Olympics. It was one of only 10 disciplines at the first Games in Athens over 120 years ago. The United States dominated the Games, winning nine out of the 12 gold medals at stake.

The Americans are the hot favourites to come out on top in the track and field events, at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, too. Until the 2012 London Olympics, the Americans have won 320 gold medals — that is more than one-third of the total on offer.

The erstwhile Soviet Union is a distant second with 64 medals, followed by Great Britain (53), Finland (48) and East Germany (38). The United States has won 767 medals in all in athletics.

The Americans have been a dominant force in the water too, having won 230 gold medals in swimming — an event that is probably second only to athletics in terms of popularity at the Olympics. The Australians are the second best, with 57 gold medals.

Like athletics and swimming, gymnastics too has been a favourite event at the Olympics. The Soviet Union, which participated as a nation until the 1988 Olympics, reigned supreme in this stunning spectacle of a sport. The Soviets are still at the top of the gymnastics table with 72 gold medals. Their Cold War rival, the United States of America, is second with 33 gold medals, followed by Japan (29), China (26) and Romania (25).

However, the Americans and the Russians have struggled in a few disciplines. Hockey, for instance. It is a sport that India dominated at the Games for decades. The legendary Dhyan Chand and other wizards with the hockey stick helped India win the gold medal on eight occasions, six of them on the trot from 1928 to 1956. India may not have struck gold after the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, but the nation is still perched atop the hockey table. The Netherlands is in second spot with five gold medals, followed by Australia (four), Germany (four) and Pakistan (three).

In women’s hockey, which made its Olympic debut in 1980, Australia and the Netherlands have won the gold on three occasions each.

Besides hockey, shooting interests India a great deal. In fact, it is the only event, other than hockey, in which the country has won the Olympic gold medal. It came in Beijing in 2008, as Abhinav Bindra became the first and only Indian (as of date) to win an individual gold.

The United States is leading the shooting table too with 53 gold medals, followed by China (21), the Soviet Union (17), Sweden (15) and Great Britain (13).

Wrestling is another sport in which India has done relatively well, having won four medals, including one silver. The Soviet Union (62 gold medals), the United States (50), Sweden (28), Japan (28) and Turkey (28) are the giants in the sport that originated 15,000 years ago.

The United States, not surprisingly, is far ahead in basketball with 21 gold medals. The next best team, the Soviet Union, has only four.

In another popular indoor sport, volleyball, the Soviet Union is at the top with seven gold medals, followed by Brazil (four), Japan (three), the United States (three) and Cuba (three).

Badminton also attracts a lot of attention at the Olympics, though it was introduced only in 1992. China is the top nation in this sport, having claimed 16 gold medals. Apart from China, only South Korea and Indonesia have been able to win more than one gold; they have six apiece.

Saina Nehwal’s heroics four years ago helped India enter the list of only nine countries that have won a badminton medal at the Olympics.

In football, where teams usually don’t play with their star players, Hungary and Great Britain are on top in the men’s section with four gold medals each. In the women’s event, introduced in 1996, the Americans have dominated by winning the gold medal in all the four editions.

The Americans and the British are the top nations in tennis too with 20 and 17 gold medals respectively. Thanks to tennis, India ended its 44-year individual medal drought at the Games, as that great fighter, Leander Paes, won the men’s singles bronze at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

As for table tennis, China’s domination has been complete, winning 24 of the 28 gold medals that were on offer since the discipline was introduced in 1988. South Korea (three) and Sweden (one) are the only other countries to strike gold in the sport.